On The QT

Up North in India: Touring and Teaching

Blogger: Katie Burke

The popping of my ears awoke me from my comfortable sleep. I pulled the blanket from over my head revealing a scattering of soft lights from houses on the surrounding hillside as they too began to awaken with the rising sun. We were here. The bus pulled into a large carpark on the hill and we sleepily disembarked. We were the last ones at the stop when a young Tibetan man ran towards us, helmet in hand. This was Tenzin our volunteer coordinator; late, laid back but very likeable. I could barely focus on following him up the hill to the town of McLeod Ganj as my eyes were continually drawn to the beauty around us; roaming hillsides, beautiful vista’s and families of monkeys on the street. Although bustling and a tad on the pungent side McLeod proved to be the polar opposite of Delhi and immediately provided the peace and natural beauty that my soul had been crying out for. I was in the right place.

We bullied Tenzin into taking us on a quick walk up the hill outside the town. This resulted in several ooohs and aahs and much picture taking from us. Eventually we ambled back down to a Tibetan restaurant and had a delicious breakfast…which may have been somewhat tainted by my curiosity to try Tibetan Butter Tea, most definitely an acquired taste.  Now fed and watered we were put into a taxi bound for Bir, a two hour trip. The bus journey caught up on me and so this car trip became a series of short naps interspersed with overwhelmingly beautiful views,  spotting two wild bears in a field, beeping drivers each vying for their own piece of winding mountain road, ornate Buddhist monasteries and finally the vibrant little village of Bir. We were whisked inside the elaborate and spacious three story house and up the many stairs by Yeshi; our beloved carer and cook, and Phuntsok, a wirey 16 year old Tibetan boy who carried as many of our bags as he could smiling all the way.

After the first scrumptious lunch of many and a tour around the house, most importantly a visit to the roof top where we could see for miles around the beautiful little village littered with Tibetan prayer flags. We decided to set off exploring. Our surroundings were amazing and we found it a pleasant surprise that most people in the village smiled broadly at us when we greeted them and then continued on their way, no pointing and staring here.

And so the week rolled on and the memories of Delhi faded away. My new, more peaceful life now involved hikes up snow-capped mountains, watching paragliders land, visiting every monastary within a ten mile radius, sitting in temples listening to monks pray their Pooja, walking the Stupas with Yeshi in the evenings, spinning prayer wheels, buying warm blankets and constantly eating delicious momos and chow mein. And last but not least, one of my favourite experiences in Bir; watching a large group of monks in ceremonial clothing, dance around a bonfire until sunset, firecrackers exploding left, right and centre without them so much as missing a step. All to celebrate Lohsar- Tibetan New Year.

I was surprised to find that many new skills were required of me in my new home. I worked hard on perfecting the art of going to bed fully clothed, wrapped in a blanket, sliding into a sleeping bag, and covering all of me including my head in a massive duvet to prevent freezing to death in the night. Also we discovered the water in the house is heated by solar panels,which is great…if there is sun but alas in an overcast mountainous area the only hot showers come from four kettle’s worth of boiled water in a bucket and a handy jug for pouring. Rustic!

But nothing was as much fun as becoming a teacher. We were told that we wouldn’t get to do much teaching in our first two weeks because of Lohsar. But on our second day while I was lying on the roof in the sunshine Tenzin arrived breathless insisting we go to Ningmya Monastery across the road to teach. Before we knew what was happening myself and my fellow volunteer; Willow were standing front of a group of smiling teenage monks being asked to explain simple things like “potential” and”influence”…it felt very much like being thrown in the deep end but was surprisingly enjoyable. The next morning we began teaching what was to become our class. A group of adorable younger monks aged from three to twelve in Sakya Monastary. Our definitions of potential and influence would be of no use to us here, in a sea of round smiling faces shouting “M’am M’am…my name is (insert unpronounceable Indian/Tibetan/ Nepalese name here)..I yam prom Ne-Paul”. We loved them instantly and even more so at the end of class where they all stood up completely unprompted and sang to us. There may have been a tear or two from our sloppy sentimental eyes as they each stopped to hug and or high five us on their way out the door. Red robes trailing in the mud as they put on their selection of pink and purple crocs at the door. They were little boys in monks robes more so than the little monks in training I’d been expecting. I was so happy to have met them, the reason for my being here, and could not wait to see what fun and stories these little rascals would create for me in the coming weeks.

Blogger: Katie Burke - Adventures in India
Katie is an aspiring writer who is originally from Galway. She has been travelling in India for the past two months. She has had an eclectic journey including everything from experiencing the culture shock of  Delhi to teaching baby Buddhist monks in Dharamsala and so much in between. This blog covers the highs,  the lows and the hilarious of each site and situation visited and reveals the madness that is India from the naked eye of a first time visitor.
Leave a Reply
Shopping cart close